Democrat Doug Jones’s victory in Alabama's U.S. Senate special election shocked political observers, setting off a cascade of commentary about its political significance as the country heads toward midterm elections in 2018.
Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years. Jones's Republican opponent, Roy Moore, who has yet to concede, ran a contentious campaign that split his party, despite earning vocal endorsements from President Trump and the president's former political strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
Jones's victory — likely to have ramifications in Congress, where Republicans cling to a slim majority in the Senate — led the news on the biggest U.S. news sites. But how did it play in conservative media?
Not Bannon’s fault
The reputation the president’s former chief strategist had earned in some quarters as a political mastermind — many credited him for Trump's improbable success last year — sustained a massive blow with Moore’s loss. Despite the numerous allegations made by women that Moore had acted inappropriately toward them when they were teenagers, Bannon blazed ahead with his support for the candidate, stumping with him in the campaign’s final days.
“If they can destroy Roy Moore, they can destroy you,” he told a crowd in early December.
On Breitbart, the site that Bannon serves as executive chairman, conservative writer Ann Coulter pushed back on the assertion that he deserved blame for the loss.
“Bannon is the least culpable!” she tweeted, in a quote that the site splashed, exclamation mark included, in a headline across its home page. Coulter's piece served more as a broadside against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for fighting against one of Moore's primary challengers, Mo Brooks, a view shared by far-right Fox News host Sean Hannity.
“The good news is, even with the media carrying on 24-7 about Moore being a 'CHILD MOLESTER!' and 'PEDOPHILE,' the election was still a nail-biter,” Coulter wrote. “I salute the good people of Alabama and admire their contempt for the media.”
She said she believed that the election demonstrated the importance of harsh immigration policies for Republicans.
“Everyone who screwed the pooch on this one better realize fast: All that matters is immigration. It’s all that matters to the country, and it’s all that matters for winning elections,” she wrote. “Republicans who treat immigration as a back burner issue should be required to run on the issues they consider more important — in California. See how your arguments fare in a state that’s already been transformed by immigration. That’s your new country.”
But emails text messages
The Daily Caller, a reliably conservative site with a large following, downplayed the election news entirely, with only scant references on its home page. Instead the site focused on negative stories about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into possible Russian collusion: sound bites of Republican congressmen aggressively questioning Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general with jurisdiction over the investigation, during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday; stories about texts sent by two officials who later went to work on Mueller’s team that were critical of then-candidate Trump; and a news piece that called Mueller “The Biased 'Special Counsel,' " in its home-page headline.
Fox News joined the fray, with the leading piece on its website about the Rosenstein hearing during the afternoon. “GOP pols pile on Rosenstein over agents’ anti-Trump texts, ‘extreme bias,’ Mueller probe,” the headline read. Later, it played up stories looking at whether there was any silver lining for conservatives in Jones’s election. One story, which later led the website, focused on the “pressure” facing Doug Jones to vote with the GOP, a push started by the Republican National Committee immediately after Moore's loss.
A couple of conservative sites published stories saying the election was tainted by fraudulent voting, claims that were published with scant evidence. Infowars' Alex Jones, who regularly spreads conspiracy theories, said that “dead people” and “folks bused in” swayed the election, claims that were not substantiated by evidence.
“And they, as they do all over the country, had the dead people vote and had the folks bused in in those Democrat areas, and they stole the election,” he said. “So it really is biblical what we’re witnessing, and the dirty tricks of the Clintons and the dirty tricks of their systems in this country reaching down through into daily life. I mean, they come after you when you fight them.”
Right-wing site Big League Politics, which was started by former Breitbart employees, ran multiple stories that sowed doubt about the integrity of the vote. One story on the site, based in large part off a single anonymous post on Reddit of unconfirmed authenticity, claimed that African Americans were being solicited to travel from Mississippi to Alabama for the vote.
Conservative radio host Bill Mitchell amplified some of those conspiracy theories on his Twitter account to wide derision.
The Alabama Republican Party said it does not support Moore's push for a recount, but on Wednesday evening Moore once again declined to concede.
Correction, Nov. 14: An earlier version of this story misidentified Bill Mitchell as a former congressmen. He is a radio host.